Very cold weather had its way with western and central Canada during the middle of January and in most cases completely negated the very mild first 10 days of the month. In some areas, the monthly temperature departures to date are even a little lower than normal, which defies what we normally see during a strong El Nino climate cycle.
High latitude blocking across northeastern Canada in the past 10 days is now history with the polar vortex reforming through northern Nunavut. Arctic air is retreating back north to northern and northeastern Canada as the main polar jet shifts back north. A return of the westerly flow of air from the Pacific Ocean into Western Canada is just beginning to take place and we will see a pretty big warm-up from west to east during the next few days.
Near- to above-normal temperatures are likely to make a return to most of Western Canada during the coming days with a western bias. Alberta may see a day or two with well-above normal readings, while Manitoba struggles a little more to warm up too fast. In any case, we will see an end to the arctic cold air that mid-January brought us. Snow cover helped make the nights cold with light winds and clear skies recently, but we might see some snow melt during the next week for some western locations.
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While cold weather was in place recently, we did not see a whole lot of snowfall as we sometimes can get when cold air backs up against the Rockies. Mostly light and sporadic snow totals have been noted during the winter thus far and this can be illustrated from the attached snow depth chart from Environment Canada. Snow depths are mostly in the 10-to-30-centimeter category across the Prairies with a few western areas less than 10 cm.
Snow is present throughout all areas of the Prairies, but snow depths are less than we would normally see for this time of year for most areas. During January, the majority of the stations through the three prairie provinces have received from 50 to 70% of the snow we would typically see during this period.
Many of our forecast tools continue to push the idea of a weather pattern largely influenced by the still strong El Nino across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This will mean mostly milder-than-normal weather and less-than-normal snowfall for the remainder of January into February as it appears now. Snow cover may continue to be less than we might normally expect for many areas and some of the upcoming temperatures might even melt down some of the snow.
In the near term we have confidence of milder weather and continued lack of significant snow, while later this winter we will have to watch for any disruption to the El Nino-induced weather pattern. Such a disruption can bring another period of much colder weather if high latitude blocking returns and displaces the polar vortex and brings the arctic cold air southward.
Doug Webster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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